would be unrealistic to imagine that our trade union structure could be reshaped overnight in the form of industrial unions, though Mr. Woodcock is perfectly right in setting this target as a long range objective.
It may take the best part of a generation to achieve. Definitions alone would be immensely difficult. Call for a power union, and the question is: what is power ? Coal, electricity, nuclear power, or all three ? Each is an industry with special and complex problems of its own. Could they be tackled by a single organisation ?
In the meantime, the TUC initiative has begun to create the right climate. and all the talk today is of federations and mergers among the existing trade unions. This is the obvious first step. British industry is to vast, sprawling and complex for us to import the Swedish system of unified national bargaining, with all the nation's workers represented at the top by a single body. But federations and mergers offer sizeable advantages. and are much more in the field of practical politics.
In a federation, the individual worker has at his disposal not only the services of his own union, whose special traditions and loyalties he is loth to lose, but also the services of federation officials specialising in the particular industry he works in.
His own union officials may have a number of industries to worry about. They have to cope with masses of totally different regulations. conditions and relationships. The federation officials, especially full-time ones. can give their whole attention to one class of problems.
Thus the union member envoys the best of both worlds, the vertical federation serving the needs of his own industry, the horizontal union keeping him in touch with workers in other industries and the labour movement at large.
Funds can be better deployed in developing educational and welfare services. There is less danger of inter-union conflict in bargaining with employers. Existing, but rather loose, systems of inter-union agreements on joint action can he formalised into a more powerful and closely-knit structure.
The outright merger of unions can, among other things. cut out the dissipation of energies in competitive recruiting, and can rationalise the recruiting campaign on a broader financial and psychological basis.
The Typographical Association and the London Typographical Society have sensibly come together. Questions are being asked about the five unions involved in the electrical industry. The National Union of Public Employees wants a merger of the five unions involved in local government and the health service.
The big unions
The National Union of General and Municipal Workers talks of absorbing 12 smaller unions. including the local government and health service sector. And it is on the level of the bigger empires that the continued dangers of interunion rivalries appear most clearly.
Mr. Jack Cooper, of the NUGMW, argues that the semiautonomous groups within big unions like his own and the Transport and General Workers already enjoy the character and advantages of industrial unions, coupled with the fact that each group has the whole financial and sympathetic backing of the entire union behind i t.
But, while Mr. Cooper is willing to bring small unions into his own complex, it is doubtful whether he will want to relinquish members who might be thought to belong more rationally to the sphere of other unions. This is also true of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which, at the moment. is negotiating with the foundry workers and the draughtsmen.
The prospect might be, as the Times points out, that we would end up with a "smaller number of very large unions. still sprawling over numerous industries, still in intense competition with each other. but with bigger resources for battle". This. coupled with the problems raised by the need for more scope for local (as opposed to national) bargaining, reveals the extent of the difficulties to be overcome. A great deal more give and take will be required if the industrial union is ever to become the norm.
To begin with, the best bet is that a number of the smaller unions will combine, and this, like the federation system. will give a better platform to union leaders of first class ability and force, whose capacities are denied full scope in their present limited context.
Mr. John Hare, the Minister of Labour, has said that he may introduce legislation to ease the present laws governing trade union amalgamations.At the moment half the members involved must vote, and there must be a 20 per cent majority in favour. This is felt to be too strict.
The forthcoming interim report on new trade union structures to be presented to the TUC will be awaited with great interest. Meanwhile. on their side, the employers are helping matters by agreeing that their three principal organisations of British employers are to come together in a single body comparable in scope to the TUC.
These are the Federation of British Industry, the British Employers Confederation, and the National Association of British Manufacturers. The intention is to produce a body that will act in the national interest to encourage industrial efficiency and competitive power. and to provide advice. It will aim to formulate. make known and influence general policy in regard to economic. fiscal, commercial. labour. social and technical questions.